England’s World Cup campaign got off to a spluttering but winning start as they fought their way past unfancied Tonga.
Two first-half tries from the buccaneering Manu Tuilagi and a second-half rumble from Jamie George off a driving maul opened a gap, Owen Farrell landing three penalties and two conversions.
Replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie grabbed the bonus-point fourth try late on but the expected avalanche of points never materialised.
Tonga had shipped 14 tries to New Zealand earlier this month and had won only one of their last seven coming into this tournament.
But they caused England problems at the breakdown, and despite a solid defensive display coach Eddie Jones will want much more from his side as they look to win the Webb-Ellis trophy for only the second time in their history.
In the early exchanges, Tonga had more than matched England, the men in white shipping five penalties in the first 24 minutes and Sonatane Takulua landing one from 30 metres to level up Farrell’s early effort.
Jones’ fury was visible in the stands but it was Tuilagi who stampeded to the rescue with a brace of tries that illustrated why he is so critical to England’s World Cup hopes.
He fought and twisted through three tackles to wrestle the ball over the line for his first and then took an inside pass from Jonny May after Elliot Daly had put the winger away down the left to run away for the second.
Farrell landed another penalty after a series of drives from close in almost led to a third try, but England had paid a price for their 18-3 half-time lead.
Ben Youngs and Anthony Watson were both crunched in huge challenges but it was Zane Kapeli’s hit on Billy Vunipola that topped them all, England’s number eight knocked backwards by the open-side’s tackle.
Although Farrell stretched that lead with his third successful penalty the precision was still not there, England’s handling errors mounting despite conditions under the roof being almost perfect.
Jones threw Ellis Genge on for Joe Marler and then Henry Slade at full-back with Daly taking May’s place on the left-wing.
With George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam and Willi Heinz also coming on England went back to basics, setting up a driving maul from 15 metres out that ended with George touching down.
Still, the fluidity did not come, the vast open spaces under the curving roof sucking in the noise from the large English support and the game becoming increasingly disjointed.
Slade, in his first competitive outing since the Premiership final after an injury to his left knee, limped away from another big tackle, a concern for Jones after the role the Exeter centre played during the Six Nations.
When Farrell switched to 10 with Jonathan Joseph at outside centre another promising move ended with a knock-on from Maro Itoje, one of 14 handing errors in the 80 minutes.
But Joseph then made a lovely outside break to ghost into space, drawing the last man before slipping Cowan-Dickie in on his right.
With the USA in Kobe on Thursday England’s next game, they have time to hit their straps before the tougher challenges of Argentina and France.
And Jones will demand more after an opening weekend when the All Blacks and Ireland both produced far more impressive performances.
Absent four years ago through ill-discipline and injury as England went at the group stage, the revitalised centre made 93 metres with the ball in hand and beat six defenders, a constant threat to the Tongan defence.
England World Cup winner Matt Dawson on Radio 5 Lives: “England won’t be happy with that. Ten penalties I made it, numerous handling errors. That’s unacceptable for the standards that Owen Farrell and Eddie Jones have set. They’re the sorts of things that you can fix and work on but I’m hoping they don’t flog them to death.
“One thing that did stand out that was that England looked a little bit leggy. We didn’t see much of Billy Vunipola or Maro Itoje or Kyle Sinckler crashing forward. There wasn’t much fizz.”
You might also like – Ireland 27 – 3 Scotland
Ruthless Ireland franked their status as the world’s top-ranked side with a clinical Rugby World Cup victory against a meek Scotland in Yokohama.
The Irish went over in their first two incursions into the Scottish 22, James Ryan and Rory Best ploughing over to put them 12-0 ahead after 15 minutes.
Greig Laidlaw got the Scots on the board, but a wretched bounce led to Tadhg Furlong adding a third try before the half was out. Andrew Conway then crossed after the break to secure Ireland’s bonus point. read more